Cousins had 30 points and 14 rebounds and Thompson scored the game-winner on a putback in the final minute to give Sacramento fans plenty more to cheer about than just having a team as the Kings won their season-opener 90-88 over the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night.
“It’s a sense of relief,” coach Mike Malone said after winning his debut. “Opening night and there was so much hoopla going into this game, rightfully so for our fans, for our mayor, for our owner. It was a great way to celebrate. To win on this night was great for the fans most importantly and for our players.”
Greivis Vasquez added 17 points and Isaiah Thomas had 16 off the bench as the Kings snapped a nine-game losing streak to the Nuggets in the first game of the new regime headed by owner Vivek Ranadive and Malone.
“That’s the old Kings,” Cousins said. “We’re not really worried about the past. This is the first game.”
Ty Lawson scored 20 points but missed a potential tying shot in the closing seconds for the Nuggets, who started off Brian Shaw’s tenure with a loss. Shaw took over for last season’s coach of the year George Karl, who was fired after a first-round playoff loss to Golden State despite winning 57 games in the regular season.
“It was a raucous atmosphere but we played through it,” Shaw said. “It was a crazy atmosphere tonight.”
The Kings are building their franchise around Cousins, giving him a $62 million, four-year contract extension before the season and giving him a tutor in new minority owner Shaquille O’Neal, who sat court side for the opener.
“He was coaching me through the game a lot,” Cousins said. “He sent me a text at halftime. I’m glad he came and supported us. Hopefully we’ll see him around more often.”
Cousins backed that support up with a strong performance in the opener. Cousins made an emphatic dunk off his own miss to give the Kings an 86-82 with just under 4 minutes left and then drew an offensive foul on Lawson. Thomas followed with a bank shot and the Kings appeared in control.
“He is much more than a one-way player,” Malone said of Cousins. “He has to be a guy who defends at a high level for us and I thought he did a decent job of that for us tonight.”
But the Nuggets answered with six straight points to tie the game at 88 on J.J. Hickson‘s drive with 1:37 to play.
Cousins came up with a blocked shot and a deflection on the defensive end for force a shot-clock violation and the Kings went back ahead when Jason Thompson followed Cousins’ miss with a jam with 41.5 seconds to go for his only basket of the game.
“I just made an aggressive energy play and it just happened to be the game-winner,” Thompson said.
Lawson missed a difficult reverse over Thompson with about 1 second left. The Nuggets got the ball out of bounds with 0.9 seconds left but Randy Foye missed an off-balance jumper at the buzzer.
“I got hit in the face and didn’t even know what happened,” Lawson said. “Someone had to tell me afterward it rolled off the rim. I’ve got to make that shot.”
It was a party atmosphere in Sacramento with a loud crowd dressed in purple “Long Live the Sacramento Kings” T-shirts. They even cheered O’Neal, their longtime antagonist who once referred to the team as “the Queens” when he played for the Lakers.
The loudest cheers were for Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, who was integral in keeping the Kings here and Ranadive who put up the money to accomplish it. Ranadive proclaimed “This is your team and it’s here to stay!”
The two also thanked commissioner David Stern for his help in keeping the Kings here and gave him a key to the city and a hard hat to symbolize the upcoming project to build a new arena.
The Kings fed off the energy from the crowd to get off to a fast start. Thomas scored seven points during a 12-2 run starting late in the first quarter to give Sacramento an 11-point lead.
But Denver used a three-guard lineup to protect the ball better and fought back to tie the game late in the half before Travis Outlaw‘s 3-pointer from the corner in the closing seconds gave Sacramento a 48-45 lead at the break.
NOTES: Nuggets F Wilson Chandler sat out with a strained left hamstring and was replaced in the starting lineup with Anthony Randolph. … The Kings have won the last 13 times they have opened the season at home, the longest streak in NBA history.
By JOSH DUBOW, AP Sports Writer
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